Earlier this year NAIOP SoCal launched its Diversity Task Force to develop programs to better diversify the chapter and industry. The timing was fortuitous considering the events that enveloped our nation in May. On the heels of the Black Lives Matter movement, the task force has moved quickly to enact initiatives that were discussed in January of this year to help educate and promote change for the chapter, its members and ultimately the industry.
One of the first initiatives is to work with educational institutions to access a more diverse community of young people who may not be aware of the breadth of careers within commercial real estate. As Michael Chukwueke, Task Force Co-Chair, stated, “We want to create a bridge between individuals who are interested in commercial real estate and those of us who are in commercial real estate.”
The group kicked off a collaboration with California State University, Fullerton (CSUF), one of the more diverse campuses in the CSU system. In 2019, CSUF enrolled more than 57 percent female population with ethnic student distribution at more than 20 percent Asian, two percent Black, and more than 43 percent Hispanic/Latinx.
The Center for Real Estate at CSUF is part of the 23-campus California State University system’s Center for Real Estate (CRE). The Center’s director, Robert H. Osbrink, has had a decades-long career in real estate. Along with overseeing the Center, Osbrink is in charge of the internship program, and works with the recently-formed Real Estate Alumni Association. He also works with the student-led Real Estate Association, open to all CSUF students.
“One of my goals is to integrate all industry groups including NAIOP as well as IREM, BOMA, CREW and others into what we are doing so that students have a broad background when they leave the campus. Many of those students are first-generation college students. We are placing people of gender and ethnic diversity into real estate who may not otherwise have connections to the business,” Osbrink shared. Osbrink’s team helps the students with placement, assessing a career path in the business, and even resume writing.
“I’ve been in the business a long time, since the ‘70s. I know how it’s built. But Orange County’s population has changed, and the industry needs to better reflect the diversity of its community,” Osbrink added.
In addition to the CSUF collaboration, the Task Force is working with the USC Ross Minority Program as well as the Real Estate Executive Council (REEC), a trade association composed of minority men and women executing business in the commercial real estate industry.
Chukwueke adds that the Task Force is looking at the community college system and high school level as well. “This is a multi-pronged effort. We want to do so much, but I want it to be measurable. We’ll start with CSUF and hope to roll out a similar process with other schools. This way we can create a platform that allows the industry to get access to talented minority candidates. It starts with outreach from us and NAIOP to specific groups that can provide a better link.”
The task force is also pursuing awareness and education through a series of webinars, launched in July. The first webinar, “Why Inclusion in Commercial Real Estate Matters to All of Us”, featured Chukwueke, Duke Realty, along with John Drachman, Waterford Property Company; Malcolm Johnson, JP Morgan Chase and Co; Emily Mandrup, LBA Logistics; and Kenya Williams, Uncomm Projects.
The panelists all shared their own paths into real estate as well as providing first-hand experiences in dealing with diversity, including sobering stories on what it’s like to be a woman and Black person in commercial real estate and takeaways for what can be done to make change.
Since then the task force has led a series of webinars for young people and students, providing a deep dive into industry sector careers such as architecture/design and finance for example.
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CSUF real estate students and leadership attending the 10th Annual CSUF Commercial Real Estate Forum this past January.
Image by Marc Weisberg Photography